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A celebrity in her native town, Sumitra Nayak harbours big rugby dreams

A celebrity in her native town, Sumitra Nayak harbours big rugby dreams

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Published: 28 Jun 2019 4:56 AM GMT

Hailing from Jajpur in Odisha, Sumitra Nayak had to start fighting from an early age. Her abusive and extremely intolerant father deserted their family to fend for themselves when Sumitra's sister was only nine months old.

Sumitra's battle started on that particular day, and she has been taking down all odds since then. 

Today the 21-year-old is almost a celebrity in her native town.

She has been one of the key members of the Indian women’s team that scripted history last week by winning their first-ever international match in the Asian 15s Rugby Championship in Manila.

Sumitra’s strike in the dying minutes via a penalty helped India win 21-19 against Singapore to finish third in the tournament.

Sumitra plays as a scrum-half, which is the most crucial position in the game. Speaking to The Bridge from her hostel in Kalinga Institute of Social Science (KISS), she said, “Scrum-half position in the rugby is like central midfielder in football. Scrum-half must have excellent peripheral vision, tremendous endurance and power, as well as unique speed as a scrum-half sees the whole game and she or he has to lead the team from beginning to end.”

Although Sumitra’s mother today owns a beauty parlour, she informed, “After my father left us, I had seen my mother doing everything tirelessly. She used to work as domestic help and then as a sweeper. I have closely seen her and how she fought against the odds. I also used to help her at home. As my sister was an infant then, I stopped going to school to look after her as my mother had to work outside. There were days when we did not even have two meals a day. I have seen the struggle from close quarters.”

Sumitra, who got admission into KISS in 2001, added, “I resumed my studies in KISS where I watched the boys who had gone to London to take part in the Rugby World Cup. That kindled my dreams to play rugby. But we had to undergo rigorous physical tests before playing the game. I passed in all the tests and finally joined the training.”

Sumitra harbours a dream of playing somewhere abroad, at least for a season.

She asserted, “I desperately need a job so my mother can take rest. At the same time, I dream of representing a foreign club at least for one season so that I can gain experience, so that I can be more mature and above all playing in abroad might help me to earn some money also.”

The Indian women’s team received a tremendous reception at the Biju Patnaik International Airport. Even at midnight, on their return, a huge crowd gathered at the airport. Although no cash incentive has yet been announced from any quarter, Sumitra is optimistic about the future of the sport.

She knows that her district has also produced another star - Dutee Chand. Instead of going into the comparisons, she said, “Every household in Odisha is aware of my name now. But I am not much bothered much. I aim to contribute to my family so that my mother stops working.”

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